Local Footy: Amateur legend ends fun journey after 428 games

One of the great careers in amateur football ended at the weekend when Old Paradians forward Peter “Plugger” Brabender played his final game at 40 years of age.

Brabender’s games tally of 428 included a handful of under-19 games but not one reserves game. Sunday’s match against Division 2 rival Banyule was his second grand final; the other one was the B-grade decider against Old Trinity in 1996.

Brabender earned his nickname as a teenager when a teammate pointed out his solid build and shameless mullet. His likeness to St Kilda’s Plugger Lockett extended to his ability to take strong marks, but it was endurance that set Brabender apart.

In more than 20 seasons, he missed only 16 games. Luck played its part. Once he broke a leg but it was in the final round so he didn’t miss a game.

A self-employed plumber, Brabender’s preparation involved knocking off early on Fridays so he could put his put his feet up before the game. On Mondays he started late so he could recover from the game.

His main trait besides endurance was his ability to play above his height. Brabender is only 178 centimetres, but time and again he outmarked taller opponents through canny use of his body. His best mate from the footy club, Paul Walsh (who played 375 games himself), said Brabender played as if he was 190 centimetres.

Brabender’s career at Old Paradians started in 1987. He played 200 games as a half-back before moving into the midfield. “Then he lost a yard or two—not that he ever had a yard or two—and was moved into the forward line,” Walsh said.

His performances in attack included kicking nine goals in his 400th game, against Yarra Valley Old Boys last year. After the game, there was a presentation in the Frank Mount Social Rooms. Brabender was pleased to receive a framed jumper and the footy from the match, but he was speechless when covers were pulled back to reveal a sign that said the Peter “Plugger” Brabender Bar.

“You can get only so many jumpers and footies,” Walsh said.

This season Brabender formed a potent attacking partnership with David Boundy, who returned to Old Paradians after five years with VFL club Northern Bullants. In two successive games, Brabender and Boundy both kicked five goals.

On Sunday, Boundy played in the ruck and at full-forward and was again Old Paradians’ best, while Brabender had a quiet game at half-forward. Old Paradians thought they had a sniff halfway through the last quarter, but Banyule slammed on two late goals to kill off the contest.

That night, Old Paradians had their wake back at the Frank Mount rooms, with drinks dispensed over the Brabender Bar. Brabender was last seen at 5.30am wearing nothing but a Nike sneaker over his centre square. On Monday night he was still going at 3.30am.

Walsh described his friend as “a bloke’s bloke”, who likes beer, cigarettes and a large day at the races. Brabender went on 21 footy trips in a row. He was always the last to leave social functions.

Peter Brabender never played in a premiership, but he had a good time getting there.

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